UNC pulls away from pesky Lipscomb for 84-66 win in NCAA tourney opener

North Carolina's Theo Pinson shoots between Lipscomb's Eli Pepper (22) and Kenny Cooper (21) on Friday. (Gerry Broome)

Kenny Williams scored 18 points and defending national champion North Carolina took its time before opening up, beating pesky Lipscomb 84-66 Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"I was excited all week about coming to play my first game with heavy minutes in the NCAA tournament," Williams said. "This is what you look forward to growing up, so I was a little bit more excited about that."

Theo Pinson had 15 points and flirted with a triple-double for the Tar Heels (26-10), the No. 2 seed in the West Region.

Five players scored in double figures for UNC.

Playing for the first time in the NCAA tourney, the 15th-seeded Bisons (23-10) shot well at the start and held an early six-point edge. They led 33-31 with under four minutes left in the first half before North Carolina went on a 12-1 run to take control by the break with a 43-34 lead at halftime.



UNC won its 12th NCAA game in 13 tries going back to the 2016 tournament that ended with a title-game loss to Villanova.

Williams had played only spot duty that season and missed last year's title run because of an injury.

On Friday, in his first major NCAA tournament minutes, he looked right at home. He made 6 of 8 shots and 4 of 5 3-pointers in 28 minutes, helping the Tar Heels gradually take control on the way to shooting 52 percent with nine made 3s.

North Carolina's Joel Berry II drives against Lipscomb's Michael Buckland on Friday in Charlotte.



"When we execute our offense, we're getting guys open and we're setting solid screens, and guys are able to come off in a rhythm and knock it down," senior point guard Joel Berry said. "Today Kenny didn't force any shots. Any time somebody drove he was ready to shoot."

Kenny Cooper scored 14 points for the Bisons, who made just 7 of 28 3-pointers.

Lipscomb's leading scorer, Garrison Mathews, was limited to just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. Mathews came in averaging 22.1 points per game.

"It was going to take a magical performance from someone like us to beat someone like them," Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said. "We didn't get that, so we were fighting uphill all afternoon, it felt like. I thought our guys really competed."

BIG PICTURE

Lipscomb: The Bisons beat Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. Coach Casey Alexander - roaming the sideline as a head coach in the tournament for the first time - said he wanted his players to savor the experience even as they faced a daunting challenge. Lipscomb missed its last nine 3s of the first half as UNC surged ahead.

UNC: The Tar Heels were taking their first step toward becoming only the third repeat champion since UCLA's record run of seven straight ended in 1973. It certainly helps that they had again earned themselves a friendly opening site; UNC improved to 34-1 in NCAA games played in its home state with the last loss coming in 1979.

"We have good players who have really played well, the fans do help us," coach Roy Williams said. "And I'm willing to see if we can pass a law that says we play all NCAA games here. I'd be willing to go for that."

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels moved to Sunday's second round against 7-seed Texas A&M, which beat 10-seed Providence earlier Friday.
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(Copyright ©2018 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.)